Welcome back to another Short Fiction Sunday. Today, this review is sponsored by the folks of Unreal Magazine. I’ve reviewed a handful of stories by them, all surreal, all fantastic, and definitely worth the Silver Claw name. I’ve been tasked with reviewing a handful of tales from Clarkesworld Magazine’s August 2017 issue, which is a ways back, but contains two fantastic reads, both by Chinese authors. So, let’s see what stories will unfold today?
Clarkesworld Magazine has always been a favorite of mine. So many wonderful tales rich with fantasy and science fiction, stories from many worlds. Today, we’ll look at two stories from Issue 131 that stand out the most. If you wish to read more stories from folks like Nin Harris, Octavia Cade, and Kim Stanley Robinson, you can find a free back issue at clarkesworldmagazine.com.
Twisted Knots, by D.A. Xiaolin Spires.
This is a tale about technology crossing with culture. Inspired by Chinese folk tales, the story follows Lillian, a scientists who, inspired by puppetry, creates a golem that acts and thinks for itself, giving it consciousness and free thought. This was a very heartwarming tale about a daughter and her mother, and the troubling relationships across two parts of the world. While most would assume that robotics gaining free will is bad, this serves a grander purpose in that sense of humanity.
Robots might act human, they cannot feel like them. This story gives us a look at a woman building her childhood to make her mother proud, even if she would never notice her. It’s a very strong tale that doesn’t go too deep, but gives an emotional experience throughout. Lillian’s character development flows nicely throughout these 5,000 or so words. The writing flowed nicely and set up nice worldbuilding as well. The addition of folklore really enhanced this story and I’d love to see more stories like this.
A Man Out of Fashion by Chen Qiufan, translated by Ken Liu
Time Travel stories are fun. This one takes on a neat twist. The last story focused on the sense of relationship, but this one focuses on the sense of identity. Du Ruofei is transported to the far future where everything about a person can be changed at the drop of a hat. Facial structure, gender, pets, even relationships can change on a whim. Meanwhile, the main lead is torn between his own identity and his ever changing figure.
He’s also part of a grand conspiracy with a group of terrorists seeking to destroy the remnants of his arrival. It provides a sprawling plot in such few words that felt enigmatic, yet satisfying. So many twists and turns, so much character development, and so few words makes for one hell of a ride. It really makes you wonder about your identity, what you call yourself. Sometimes, I’m sure many of us would change who we are in a heartbeat, given the chance. I’d love to be an animal of some kind, but I know deep down, I’d miss my human identity, no matter how much I’d improve.
And some day, no matter how you change, your true self will always come back. This story really made me think about the concept of identity and self-reflection. We might hate things about ourselves, our personality, looks, disabilities, and would do anything to change them to make ourselves better, but for some, we might change ourselves on the outside, but no one can change us on the inside.
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